All you think about is the money – what the state of American tennis tournaments indicates about capitalism in America

\”All you think about is the money,\” said Rafael Nadal to officials at the U.S. Open (tennis tournament.)

Before you accuse Nadal of naïveté or petulance stop for a moment and consider a few things. Nadal is a seasoned professional tennis player who has seen, taken part in, and won tournaments around the world. Nadal is not comparing the U.S. Open with some imaginary tennis tournament he is contrasting the way in which tennis professionals are treated at U. S. Open tournament with the treatment they receive at the other Grand Slam tournaments. And he is not alone in his feeling about the way in which the U.S. Open is run. Players from a wide number of countries are making the same comments. Players who have successfully won many tournaments and much money (like Roger Federer) are saying something similar. Players who themselves own and run tournaments (like Novak Djokovic) are saying something similar. American players, like Andy Roddick, are complaining.

Looking at the state of the tennis tournament being played right now in New York can give you an insight into the state of capitalism and management/worker relationships in America today.

Some tennis players make a lot of money, some make a good living, some make a decent living and some barely make a living. Tennis players make no money if they don\’t work [1] Even the top players make little in comparison to the top players in American football, baseball or basketball.

Tennis players provide the entertainment which is marketed, for a very large profit. Most of the players have no problem with the idea that those who put on the tournaments should make a healthy profit, but they do have a problem when the maximization of profit determines each and every aspect of the tournament. This does not result in the average tennis fan getting the best show possible. It doesn\’t result in the players providing the best entertainment. It doesn\’t result in tennis as a sport being strengthened.

It only results in those who hold the purse-strings/contracts making the most money for least investment in the short run. Like virtually every other major corporation in the United States decisions are being made not to benefit the long-term health of the company/endeavour but to make this month\’s payoff as large as it can be.

So, earlier this week, players were asked to go out and play in slippery conditions. For a tennis player slippery hard courts can make for a career ending injury. And I am sure if such a thing had happened to Nadal the network would have worked to milk that for as many rating points as possible. They would not have been willing to recompense Nadal for the future earnings lost.

What is eerie for me as a tennis fan watching this all unfold is how revolutionary it feels to say that \”maximizing profit shouldn\’t be the ONLY consideration.\” Nadal and Federer and Djokovic and Roddick may be well paid but they are still, clearly, workers-for-hire who are expected to perform under all conditions. If workers are well paid (whether they are tennis players, university professors or postal workers) they are supposed not to be \”petulant\” or to \”whine\” about bad conditions. They are never, however, to take being well paid or well treated as a right. It is a privilege that can be taken away at any time.

None of the top ranked tennis players who have been so focal at the U.S. Open will go without dinner next week if their \”attitude\” costs them their careers. Their children will not starve and their families will not be without heat or shelter in the coming winter. And they may even be able to get some little things done to redress some of their complaints. Because those who demand the highest profits made the mistake of showing their naked greed on national television and took their avariciousness out on people who have a healthy amount of money and their own PR agents.

Most of the workers in the United States have none of the advantages these tennis professionals have and yet face the same profit-hungry, avaricious overlords who are willing to trash the future in order to make an extra cent in the present.

Things are not looking good for the American worker.

[1] Yes, some have juicy endorsement contracts. Indeed some players (especially women) make more from endorsements than they do from prize money. However endorsements are usually tied to something the player may not be able to control. Endorsement contracts may be tied to a player\’s rankings or their performance at particular tournaments. Endorsements based on a player\’s looks, attractiveness or sex-appeal can melt as quickly as a change in fashion.

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